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Air New Zealand Cup launched in grand style

Media Release 13 July 2006

Air New Zealand Cup launched in grand style

New Zealand's new domestic rugby showpiece - the Air New Zealand Cup - was officially launched in grand style today, with the unveiling of the stunning trophy, the launch of a comprehensive new advertising campaign and New Zealand rugby's biggest ever press conference.

The launch was held at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium - home this year to the Counties Manukau Steelers. In launching the new competition, New Zealand Rugby Union Deputy Chief Executive Steve Tew told the audience this year would be a very special season of provincial rugby.

"It is a new chapter in the long and colourful history of provincial rugby in New Zealand," Mr Tew said.

"Over the next 13 weeks, we will see well over 300 of New Zealand's best players from the 14 Air New Zealand Cup provinces carry the honour of their provinces out onto the rugby field," he said.

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe said that today's launch of the Air New Zealand Cup marked the airline's 12th year of support for provincial rugby.

"Every season we cover more than 160,000km flying provincial rugby players to their games around the country. We also carry about 180,000kg of team baggage and gear.

"We're fiercely proud to support provincial rugby and ardently committed to maintaining our ten-year record of getting all the players to their weekly games on time," he said.

In a New Zealand first, the biggest ever rugby press conference was held at the launch, bringing together players and coaches from each of the Air New Zealand Cup provinces - Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Counties Manukau, Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, North Harbour, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Tasman, Waikato and Wellington.

The competition's stunning new sterling silver trophy, the Air New Zealand Cup, made by famed Lord of the Rings 'One Ring' designers, Jens Hansen of Nelson, was also unveiled at the launch. The trophy is modelled on the Air New Zealand Cup logo.

The NZRU has invested heavily in promotion of the new Air New Zealand Cup with five different television commercials shown at the launch. The first commercial, which airs tonight, features coaches from the competition talking about their provincial pride.

The Air New Zealand Cup competition kicks off on Friday July 28 when Hawke's Bay, making their return to the top-flight domestic competition, host Canterbury in Napier. The first weekend also sees the other three new teams - Counties Manukau, Manawatu and Tasman - in action at home. The final will be played on October 21.

Mr Tew said the competition would see rugby fans introduced to an expanded competition, exciting new match-ups, traditional and revived provincial rivalries, as well as new innovation in the format of the competition. The format of two pools, Top Six, Repechage and finals will see the best teams play each other more often.

The Air New Zealand Cup was established following the wide-ranging Competitions Review, which the NZRU launched in 2003. The objective of that Review was to conduct a comprehensive review of all NZRU competitions to ensure they provide the best possible platform for sustaining a winning All Blacks team and maintaining rugby as a game accessible and attractive to all New Zealanders.

The Air New Zealand Cup - what the teams have to say

Auckland coach Pat Lam: "The new competition signals a new era for New Zealand rugby and we are delighted to be part of it. We are privileged to have won the last Division One in the Air New Zealand NPC and look forward to the challenges that the expanded competition will bring."

Bay of Plenty captain Ben Castle: "It was a great initiative to include four new teams in this competition. It can only strengthen the base of the game. In terms of the Bay of Plenty team, we have lost a couple of senior players but we have an exciting team this year to start a new era of Bay of Plenty rugby."

Canterbury captain Corey Flynn: "The competition will be different with a new format and four new teams coming in. At the same time it's an exciting time for everyone. New Zealand rugby will certainly benefit from this because a lot more players will get the opportunity to play at the top provincial level."

Counties Manukau player Ben Meyer: "It's a huge positive for Counties to be back playing top-flight rugby. The Air New Zealand Cup is a chance for our young players to show their talent on the number one stage."

Hawke's Bay coach Brendon Ratcliffe: "We've waited 12 years to be back playing rugby at this level. This is a massive challenge for us but we are preparing for it as best we can. The reality is that it will be a big education for us but we are putting all our energy into learning as much as possible as quickly as we can."

Manawatu coach Dave Rennie: "The Air New Zealand Cup will be an exciting challenge for us and it doesn't come bigger than our first game, against Auckland. But this is good as it will give us an idea of the fast and physical nature of the game at this level. One of the positives for us though has been the eagerness of the players to learn. We realise that the first season will be a learning curve for us but the benefits will be huge - we will be better for it."

North Harbour captain Rua Tipoki: "The new competition is exciting for the game and for us, in particular, it will be something different - to play against teams and at venues where we haven't played before. Some people may think that to add four new teams may weaken the competition but I think it will actually have the opposite effect."

Northland captain David Holwell: "It's great to have new provinces in the top division. It spreads the talent of rugby in New Zealand around a bit more. As for Northland, it is a chance for us to play against those unions."

Otago coach Steve Martin: "The team is excited about taking part in the inaugural Air New Zealand Cup competition. We see it as an innovative structure. With 2006 being our 125th year, the competition presents us with the opportunity to further stamp Otago's place in New Zealand rugby history."

Southland captain Clarke Dermody: "The Air New Zealand Cup is a positive development for the new teams coming into the competition."

Taranaki captain Paul Tito: "It is awesome for the four new teams and a great opportunity for them. I expect the traditional rivals to be strong but I think we are in for an interesting competition."

Tasman captain Greg Feek: "We are entering a historic era for rugby in this region and the new competition is a great opportunity for the smaller unions in New Zealand rugby. We hope that the Air New Zealand Cup will create even more interest in the team and the competition."

Waikato coach Warren Gatland: "The Air New Zealand Cup is an exciting new structure and a new chapter in New Zealand rugby. The fact that more players will be put out there may encourage a lot more players to remain in New Zealand and push for higher honours. In the past some players probably felt they had to leave one union for another to get a chance to play at a higher level."

Wellington coach John Plumtree: "It's a new concept with an extra knockout game (quarterfinal). We've seen good signs in pre-season games from the new teams and it will be interesting to see how it all works out in the end. I hope the people come out and support their teams and the competition."


Issued by Air New Zealand Public Affairs and the New Zealand Rugby Union


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